Like its predecessor, Camelot is written in first person, this time from the perspective of Galahad, the son of Lancelot. The last time we saw him was on the hill overlooking the climatic Battle of Camlann in which Arthur and the Kings of Britain fought to stem the tide of invading Saxons. We watched as Galahad helped his father don his armour and ride to the side of Arthur one last time.
'Stay here and I will find you after...I am proud of you. My son.'
It was a truly heartbreaking moment to witness a father part from his son with loving words yet ultimately abandoning him, even if it was for a justified cause. That scene stuck with me. At the beginning of Camelot, we learn that Galahad survived the battle and was brought to a monastery on the secluded island of Ynys Wydryn by Arthur's nephew, the legendary warrior, Gawain, where he has been risen as a Christian Brother of the Thorn. However, circumstances early on in the novel force him to flee from the comfort of faith and onto the road of fate. What follows is a wonderful coming of age story in which Galahad must adapt or die.
'I was Galahad ap Lancelot, I was a killer of men.'
It is easy to see the shared similarities between Galahad and his father, both in circumstance and character, however, there are some fundamental differences between them. Galahad lacks the sense of certainty his father had in his place and purpose and is burdened by the legacy he left behind. At the same time, he undergoes a crisis of faith as he witnesses the cruel reality of the world beyond Ynys Wydryn and comes face to face with the violent gods of ancient Britain and Germania. Nonetheless, he meets these challenges head on, replacing prayers with steel, and begins to carve his own legacy and place in the world with the help of those closest to him, such as the stalwart Gawain and the she-wolf Iselle.
'My arrows work better than your prayers.'
Not only do each of these characters help shape the man that Galahad becomes, they also experience their own growth and play significant roles in the events of the novel. There are some other familiar faces too, including the last of Arthur's famed horselords, all old men now, worn by age and loss. There is the former antagonist-turned-ally, Lord Constantine, who still has hopes of claiming the title of High King, and the ambitious, self-serving mother of Mordred, the Lady Morgana, who will do anything to stay in power. We also get to meet the Saxon king, Cerdic, and his son, Prince Cynric, both of whom were absent from the pages of the previous novel, yet whose presence could still be felt through the incessant advance of their armies. All in all, Kristian's writes a great cast of characters that are memorable and impactful.
'...the soft hiss of swords being drawn up the throats of leather scabbards.'
One of the things I love most about Kristian's writing is his prose. I am a fast reader, but with Camelot, I found myself slowing down, even pausing altogether, so as to savour his masterful use of language. The way in which he describes things is simple (in the sense that it is easy to read), poetic and beautiful. Symbolism is also used to great effect, and I found myself dwelling on the significance of birds and a particular sword (not Excalibur), both of which I feel are deeply important to understanding the relationship between father and son in this book. It is rare that I read a book outside of my profession in which I find myself pondering such, but Kristian's wonderful writing demands it.
'War. Blood to water the summer wheat. Flesh to satiate the carrion feeders of earth and sky.'
You cannot review Kristian's writing without talking about his ability to write some of the best action sequences in literature. Like Lancelot, there is plenty of action throughout Camelot, particularly towards the latter half of the book, and every time I found myself bloody exhausted. Kristian puts the reader right into the thick of things, and makes you feel every fear, blow and death, be it during a fleeting skirmish or the steel storm of armies clashing. There is one entire sequence that is so atmospheric and terrifying that sent me back to the first time I watched the cult- classic, The 13th Warrior, a film-adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel, Eaters of the Dead. I will not say anymore. You just have to experience it for yourself.
Overall, I loved this book. In my review of Lancelot, I declared it a must read for anyone with a love for Arthurian myth and historical fiction in general. I am happy to announce that Camelot is just as good, if not better. Giles Kristian has a rare gift for storytelling that most of us could only dream of having. Whatever he decides to write next, be it another Arthurian tale or something entirely different, I will most definitely be reading it.
5 / 5